HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What happened to all those good vibrations emanating from the New York Knicks a couple of weeks back, when Linsanity was in full effect, Gotham was on fire with hoops fever and the Knicks were a healthy star or two from assaulting the top of the Eastern Conference standings?
How did they go from rocking the basketball world to dropping like a rock in their last eight games — in which they’re just 3-5 — and sinking to the ugly depths of what we’ve seen from them the past three days?
If you watched them Sunday in that overtime loss against Boston, you saw a stumbling Jeremy Lin trying to navigate his space on the floor with Carmelo Anthony and fail miserably for most of the game. Lin made some plays late, but neither he nor Anthony made enough of them to overcome Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and the Celtics.
Then came last night’s debacle in Dallas in the Fan Night matchup on NBA TV, where Anthony’s game flatlined into a 2-for-12 shooting effort and the reigning world champs took the Knicks apart before a late rally made things interesting score-wise.
Anthony admitted to struggling with this new system, the one where Lin serves as the Knicks’ catalyst and he and Amar’e Stoudemire (who along with the Knicks’ reserves sparked that rally in Dallas last night) sit on the receiving end for action that may or may not find them in their respective sweet spots. Howard Beck of The New York Times has the details:
“I think anytime you go from the early part of the season, just having the ball and me just having the ball and being the distributor, and now just running the wings and waiting for the ball to come to me, that’s quite an adjustment for myself.”
It is an adjustment that Anthony and the Knicks (18-20) will have to make soon, before they lose their hold on a playoff spot. They are 0-2 on this trip, with another difficult game ahead Wednesday in San Antonio and a late-season schedule packed with playoff-bound teams. They have 28 games to reestablish an identity and get Anthony back in the fold.
“I think we all are adjusting, we all are sacrificing for the betterment of the team,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, who had a resurgent game with 26 points and 7 rebounds. “That’s what it takes to win a championship. You got to sacrifice in order to get to that point.”
It’s not Lin’s fault and it’s not entirely on Anthony, either. The Knicks are currently experiencing an offensive system error that can only be fixed by its administrator, coach Mike D’Antoni. His hot seat cooled considerably during the height of Linsanity, but it will warm back up if his team continues on its current course.
Basketball is a game of cycles and a game of runs.
But that’s where D’Antoni has to adapt and adjust and study how to make all of these parts fit, how to make them functional. It would help if he could have a reasonable facsimile of Anthony at his best, because that version of Melo is the kind of talent you don’t worry about, who can play with anyone else and make them better. The version he got last night — 2-for-12 shooting, little explosion, alternately indifferent and ineffective — only adds to his complications.
The easy part for D’Antoni were those heady first few days of the Jeremy Lin Era, the Knicks decimated by injury and personal tragedy, shrinking the roster and limiting his options. There was the night he famously said of Lin, “I’m gonna ride him like friggin’ Secretariat,” but he could have been talking about his whole eight-man Iron Man rotation.
You can’t live that thin in the NBA, certainly not in the double-quick 66-game version of the schedule this year, but as the Knicks rattled off seven straight wins and clawed their way back to sea level at 15-15, it sure helped add layers to the story. It wasn’t just Lin cobbling together the resolve to keep the season from slipping away night after night. It was everyone.
It’s just that “everyone” was a lot smaller group then.
Now D’Antoni has options. He has talked about an 11-man rotation. He mixes and he matches, and sometimes the results are glorious: an 18-point turnaround late in Sunday’s game at Boston, that remarkable 20-point turnaround last night from 19 down with 19½ minutes left in the game to one up with 4:55 left in the fourth.
And sometimes the results are horrid. The Celtics outscored the Knicks by 27 in one awful stretch Sunday. The Mavs mostly toyed with the Knicks last night for three quarters.
Bottom line, if the Knicks want their issues resolved, it will have to be D’Antoni that works a little magic and not Anthony, Lin or anyone else in uniform.